Welcome Erin Lindsey, author of the new novel Bloodbound! In this guest post, Erin talks about how readers and reviewers see gender in Bloodbound, and how Erin herself sees gender roles in the Bloodbound universe.
If I needed any reminder that gender in SF/F is a hot topic these days, publicity around THE BLOODBOUND has certainly served it up. The early buzz has made much of the fact that the protagonist, Alix Black, is female. I have to admit, I’m a little surprised this is still a Thing. I mean, there are loads of female protagonists out there. Maybe Alix is a little unusual in that she’s a soldier, one who goes on to become the king’s bodyguard. But still… 2014, right?
A number of early reviews have referred, directly or indirectly, to “unusual” gender roles in the book. “Modern gender equality”, as one reviewer put it. Well, yes – and no. Aside from the fact that I wouldn’t call modern gender roles equal, I wouldn’t characterise the gender roles in THE BLOODBOUND as such either. More equal than traditional fantasy, certainly, but let’s be honest, that’s not setting the bar very high.
Women in the Kingdom of Alden do have more sexual freedom than you’d typically find in a medieval setting. Sex before marriage isn’t proscribed, morally or legally, so long as there are no complications (i.e. pregnancy). But that doesn’t mean women have much freedom to choose in the long run. They’re still expected to marry and have children, and marriage – especially in the higher ranks of society – is viewed primarily as a political and economic transaction. So beyond a few youthful dalliances, women in Alden can look forward to the same futures as their real-world medieval counterparts, with all the potential misery that implies.
It’s a similar story when it comes to women in the military. Yes, women serve in the Kingswords, in great numbers. An Aldenian woman doesn’t need to dress up as a man or endure the scorn of society in order to fight in the war; she has her own place in the army. But make no mistake – it is a place, one she is given, not one she chooses for herself. Women are physically weaker than men, so with a handful of exceptions, you won’t find them in the infantry or the cavalry. Women have two choices: they can be scouts, or archers. Aldenians see this as playing to the comparative advantage of each gender. Men are strong, and so placed on the front lines. Women, meanwhile, are graceful and coordinated, so they make stealthy scouts and dead-eye shots. There’s a saying in the Kingswords: It takes a woman to thread a needle. Not exactly a model of gender equality, is it?
Women can become knights, as Alix does, but only if they’re highborn. Here again, Alden isn’t exactly a bastion of equality. It’s as classist as any medieval setting. That means Alix has more freedom than her lowborn compatriots when it comes to her role in the army, but less in matters of marriage. As the daughter of a Banner House and one of the highest ranking women in the land, she has very little freedom to choose her own destiny. Oh, she can play around on the margins – a casual dalliance or two before she’s sold off, a dashing adventure in the Kingswords – but in the end, she’s expected to be a wife and a mother. (Of course, Alix has ideas of her own, and if there’s one thing she doesn’t do well, it’s follow orders.)
What it all comes down to, in my mind at least, is that while gender roles in THE BLOODBOUND are certainly different, they’re every bit as entrenched and restricting as those in other worlds. Re-cast, but still cast in stone. In some senses, therefore, while you could fairly call THE BLOODBOUND a story of girl power, I will accept no kudos for it being particularly progressive.
Unless those kudos come in the form of chocolate, in which case, I take it all back.